Balko Des Flos wins the Ryanair Chase
Image supplied by The Jockey Club

Northern chasing star Waiting Patiently is among 44 entries, including a record 29 from Ireland, for the £350,000 Grade One Ryanair Chase over an extended two and a half miles of the New Course at Cheltenham on day three of the Cheltenham Festival, on Thursday, March 14th.

Waiting Patiently, trained by Yorkshire-based Ruth Jefferson who had the 2018 Ryanair Chase third Cloudy Dream, has won six of his seven starts over fences, with his most notable success coming in the Ascot Chase at Ascot in February.

The lightly-raced eight-year-old, owned by Richard Collins, met his first defeat over fences last time out when hampered and unseating regular partner Brian Hughes at the ninth fence in the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on December 26th.

10-time champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls has two leading contenders in Frodon and Politologue, who is also entered in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Frodon has taken his form to a new level this season, winning the Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup for the second time at The International in December.

13 of the record 29 Irish-trained entries are from the stable of Willie Mullins, Ireland’s champion Jump trainer. The pick of the Mullins’ contenders are Al Boum Photo, Footpad, impressive Savills Chase victor Kemboy, 2017 winner Un De Sceaux, who was also second last year, and Min, who proved himself over two and a half miles with a decisive success in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in December.

Fellow Irish training behemoth Gordon Elliott’s has six contenders including Shattered Love and The Storyteller, both of whom were successful over course and distance – Shattered Love impressed when taking the JLT Novices’ Chase, while The Storyteller captured the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.

Henry de Bromhead saddled the latest Irish winner of the Ryanair Chase in 2018 with Balko Des Flos, who triumphed by four and a half lengths under Davy Russell, but has yet to hit top form in three runs so far his season. The trainer has also entered 2018RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase runner-up Monalee, 2018 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase third Petit Mouchoir and 2018 Ryanair Chase fourth Sub Lieutenant.

Venetia Williams, who trains in Herefordshire, is hoping Aso can improve on his third behind Un De Sceaux in the 2017 Ryanair Chase.

Now a nine-year-old, Aso has only been lightly-raced since due to injury, but has returned as good as ever this season.

He routed the opposition by 13 lengths in a two and a half-mile handicap chase at Newbury on November 30th and defied top-weight to win the Download The Betbright App Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, taking his rating to a career-high 163.

Williams said: “Aso has come out of his win at Cheltenham in good form.

“The Ryanair Chase is the target. He deserves his place in the race and it was a great performance to finish third in the Ryanair a couple of seasons ago and that is again where we will go.

“He will have possibly have one or even two runs before The Festival. We could take him back to Cheltenham for Festival Trials Day or go to Ascot for the Ascot Chase.

“Aso has now got another string to his bow as by accident, he made much of the running on his last two starts and he did it very well. We used to think he is a horse that needed holding on to, but that is not the case anymore.”